London Bridge Station
From the moment that you start looking for the Shunt Vaults under London Bridge Station, Tropicana is a disorienting experience. For many it might also be disturbing.
After an initial entrance through a jigsaw-pondering workman's hidey-hole, the audience is led into a carpeted corridor with a sometimes funny voice over, obsessed with fear and reminiscent of 1984. The jigsaw and repetitive but incoherent ante-room speech are clues to what the guests will be presented with
The wait gets claustrophobic as the room fills but this is nothing compared to the lift that conveys the punters, 30 at a time "down" to the vaults.
At this point life gets really weird. First there is a lecture from a madwoman. Then, you sit in a space that is probably the size of a tennis court, plunged into in pitch darkness. Images flash up occasionally, a body in a cage, a woman attacking a pineapple, a full-sized hearse and some exotic dancers who eventually mourn the death of the lift operator.
All of this may happen in semi-darkness but is illuminated by a very loud, effective and unsettling soundscape. This includes announcements of depths though whether these are beneath the sea or en route to Hell is unclear.
After a brief interval, the audience witnesses a graphic autopsy, accompanied by a comic lecture. This leads to some acrobatics and a final happy image of a gentle sun-kissed sea.
This is more performance art than theatre and the narrative thread is very loose. Such events were very popular in the sixties but nowadays are more commonly seen in the medium of video.
The Shunt collective have gone to incredible trouble to design and rehearse Tropicana. If it is to be successful, it requires a very open-minded audience, open to puzzle-solving and sensual deprivation. Only they will derive any more than a visceral pleasure, as events mysteriously unfold and reach a conclusion that ties up few loose ends.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher